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GEAR UP returns to Chaves County

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The GEAR UP program staff at ENMU-Roswell includes Interim Director Cesar Diaz, second from right, and four academic advisors. The advisors are, from left, Juan Navarez, Magan Barwick, Vanessa Serrano and James Edwards. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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ENMU-Roswell to host summer academies for middle school students

Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell has received a new federal grant that will enable it to restart its efforts to get more area students to attend college.

The GEAR UP program funded by the U.S. Department of Education intends to reintroduce itself to area youth by holding two free summer academies on the ENMU-R campus for middle school students entering 7th or 8th grade in the fall.

The first session will be held June 21-25 for Dexter, Hagerman and Lake Arthur students. The second session on July 12-16 will be for Roswell students attending Berrendo, Mesa, Mountain View and Sierra.

For many youth “it is going to be their very first exposure to an institution of higher education,” said Interim Director Cesar Diaz. “This is one of our most important goals at GEAR UP, to introduce college at an early age.”

Grant returns after hiatus

ENMU-R learned in October 2020 that it would once again receive funding for GEAR UP.

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The grant will provide $1.5 million in funding for seven years, or until September 2027. GEAR UP stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs and the U.S. Department of Education awarded its first grants in August 2009

The program works with students and their families to prepare them academically and financially for college, with a focus on lower-income students or students from families that do not have a history of college attendance.

Diaz said that the grant calls for ENMU-R to serve about 1,076 students in Chaves County.

ENMU-R had the GEAR UP program for two cycles before, with the most recent in 2011.

ENMU-R President Shawn Powell said their efforts to have it renewed in fall 2018 were not successful. This year, they heard that they would get a grant.

“What happened is that the federal government did a review of all the grants. They had funding still available and we were contacted to ask if we were interested in having the grant again and we said, absolutely,” he said. “We look forward to bringing those students to our campus and really working with them to encourage them to attend college and learn the benefits of higher education.”

Powell added that the program is not about pushing attendance at ENMU-Roswell, but rather has a larger focus on college readiness and career exploration.

“There are numerous campuses involved with the federal grant,” he said. “We serve our part of the state, and the students will be able to take trips to the different campuses and go to talk to the different campuses in the area and make sure they know what the opportunities are for them as they graduate high school and move into their future.”

The current grant will serve 1,876 middle school students from the county, said Diaz.

“We are going to guide and follow them for the next seven years of the grant until they graduate and hopefully attend college,” he said.

Diaz said that he and his staff of about seven just joined the ENMU-R GEAR UP program in April. Diaz is a former Roswell Public Library circulation coordinator with a background in education and college readiness. The program also has four academic advisors to work at school sites with students and teachers. He said the staff is working to reestablish relationships with schools and other community organizations.

The summer academies are part of the relationship rebuilding, he said.

“This will, one, create a space for our kids to be able to learn and enjoy academics in a new and fun way,” he said, “and, two, it allows our grant to be able to reconnect with those students we were not able to reach during that time that GEAR UP was not fully established.”

Summer academies deepen learning

Diaz and his staff have visited middle schools to introduce students to the summer academies.

“We are looking to have 25 for each session,” Diaz said, adding that there is room for another 20 or more students at this point.

The sessions will run from 9 a.m to noon and will increase abilities in critical thinking, math and reading and writing, with different applications for those foundational disciplines and skills.

In the first academy, there will be a component on creative writing to include poetry and a multidisciplinary project involving a graphic memoir. Students also will learn about electrical wiring and will conduct a demonstration of solar power and heat transfer by building an oven. Another component is expected to focus on conservation, and another will create a modern version of a trebuchet, a type of catapult. On the Fridays for each session, students will engage in a field day to learn about careers, participate in physical activities and put their trebuchet designs to the test.

The July session will likely have similar sessions but may include more music and art. Diaz said that academy is expected to have more students and the GEAR UP program is interested in finding more instructors for that session.

More information about the program and the summer academies is available by calling 575-624-7043.

Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.